Categorized | Government, News

Greenwell on the county budget

The following is the testimony Kona Councilman Kelly Greenwell offered at the Monday, June 7 council meeting on the budget:

To understand the solution to fixing our budget woes, we must first accept that we can no longer think of government as a business. Government process is not based on the typical business model. In fact, government draws on an entirely different reason for being.

Beyond the assurance of justice, public safety, and welfare, the responsibility of government is to ensure an economic setting wherein private business can succeed. While responsible accounting is certainly necessary, balancing the county budget, which has dominated our efforts for 6 months, is merely a part of the accounting process and cannot be considered as a required goal.

Therefore, before we concern ourselves any further with what is really the Mayor’s budget, we need to focus on reviving our county’s business climate. In our present situation the only realistic way to do this is to enhance our financial situation. Since the level of government that creates money is federal, and since they have largely recognized that more cash is needed in the overall economy, and are providing it through the ARRA, we at county need to make the effort to obtain our share.

Our County’s share of the ARRA has presently been determined to exceed $500 million on a per capita basis but so far we have received only about 20 percent of that.

To illustrate our reluctance to seek ARRA funding, had I not insisted that U.S. Representative Mazie Hirono research our eligibility to receive federal assistance in building the Ane Keohokalole Highway in Kona ($35 million) we might not have gotten it at all.

Certainly it was secured by the Mayor and his staff who in a timely fashion met the requirements needed to qualify for the grant, but we as a county were content with Ms. Hirono’s rationale for why we couldn’t qualify until I challenged her thinking – and our thinking as well.

I challenge your thinking today by again insisting that federal money is available if we frame the request properly and with conviction.
The ARRA is intended to be the tool to restart the U.S. economy and like any tool, it only works if we use it − and it works a whole lot better if we learn how.

If we continue to follow the current thinking, where will the county’s business environment be a year from now? Will cutting county services and employment by 10% improve things? In this economy? Do we believe the private sector, pressed to manage with reduced services and probably intensified criminal activity based merely on not having enough to eat, is going to rally?

Do we think that the developers and investors who provide most of our jobs are going to be moved to participate in an extended economic crisis?
Fellow Councilors, please understand that we are government, not business, and as such, have quite different responsibilities, goals and objectives.

It may be the established path of business to cut back during hard times but the very last thing government does during these same hard times is cut service. Again, like so many businesses have done already, we in government do not have the option to fail. We can not close the doors, and furthermore our success is not measured by profit – or by loss.

Our primary, and perhaps only responsibility right now is to revive the economy, and an economy does not perform if you eliminate its’ ability to grow. If you take the capacity to earn out of the equation by not spending, the economy will only continue to decline.

Where do we think we will be next year? We are significantly worse off this year than last and we will not reverse the trend by down-sizing. The investors and the businesses who can, along with the minds who operate them, will move away and the rest of us will fail, further impacting government services.

Crime, as the only occupation that pays under those conditions, will take over, and what is left of Government will be entirely focused in that area, perhaps even, as in so many other similar situations, becoming a partner. We can’t afford to take that risk under any circumstance.

We need to return this budget to the mayor with one comment and only one comment: That we will assist his administration in any way possible to secure our share of ARRA funds, so much of which is already being held by the State – that would mean:

No Reduction in Service
No New Taxes
No Furloughs

Kelly Greenwell
Council member, District 8

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